HERO vs. ZERO: RB CANDIDATES
One of the more popular approaches to team building in fantasy football is the Hero RB strategy. Some may call it “modified zero RB,” others may call it “anchor RB,” and others may call it what it used to be known as “punting RB2.”
This drafting style may have many names, but it has one singular goal: to win leagues. By drafting one high-volume running back and avoiding potential landmines going in the RB dead zone, drafters maximize their exposure to possible league-winning wide receiver and tight end values.
This season is shaping up as another where this approach is commonly being used. We have the usual RBs going in the first and second rounds. However, we also see players like James Conner, Leonard Fournette, and exciting younger players like Travis Etienne going in the third round.
Some drafters will also attempt the Zero RB build. Zero RB is a style of drafting where fantasy gamers do not take any running backs before their wide receivers and flex spots (and often your tight end and quarterback) are filled. There is no exact structural definition for Zero RB drafting. However, it is not drafting wide receivers and then double-dipping into the dead zone for your two RBs. This is simply “upside down,” drafting and it is not a popular style because the win rates are low.
If a fantasy gamer chooses to use the Hero, or even the Zero RB, approach this season, choosing the right kind of running backs to fill their roster is of the utmost importance. They should have a mix of high-end handcuffs, high-floor running back by committee types in ambiguous situations, and pass-catching running backs. Thier ultimate goal should be a balanced RB roster that can help them win early in the season. They also want exposure to potential league winners as the season progresses and attrition rears its ugly head. One thing in fantasy football is constant: RB injuries happen. Team usage changes. Running backs can occasionally turn to dust more quickly than we anticipated.
In this article, I will share my favorite late mid to late-round RBs. If fantasy gamers are building with a Hero or Zero approach, these are players I would target when I go Hero (often) or Zero (once in a while). If a fantasy gamer is a robust RB drafter (starting your draft with two or three RBs), then let this list help them build on their team’s strength with depth.
No matter what you hear or read this summer always remember: any drafting strategy works if you choose the right players!
(ALL ADP IS FROM UNDERDOG DRAFTS)
THE EXPENSIVE FLEX-WORTHY HANDCUFF PLUSES
A.J. Dillon, Green Bay ADP: 73.6 and Tony Pollard, Dallas ADP: 86.3
Dillon and Pollard deserve their own category. These two players are expensive and for good reason. They each have standalone value with a high weekly ceiling, albeit game-flow dependent. Last season Dillon finished as RB23, and Pollard finished as RB28 in PPR scoring. Aaron Jones and Ezekiel Elliott cap their upside, but if either of these backs went down or regressed, Dillon and Pollard could be league winners.
Dillon and Pollard could also see increased usage. Green Bay could go with an even heavier RB approach due to a lack of elite pass catching. Dallas could move to more of an RB 50/50 split if Elliott shows further signs of regression. Either of these players is a fine choice at their current cost.
Kareem Hunt Cleveland ADP: 98.6
This ranking, like most Cleveland ADP’s is slightly discounted because of the Deshaun Watson situation. Hunt is 26 years old, and still a very highly productive two-way back. There is less unknown upside for Hunt when compared to a younger back like Dillon or Pollard. However, even in a time share situation with a highly drafted back like Nick Chubb, Hunt will still be a lock for somewhere between RB2 and RB3 value. He has a number of outs that could make his value explode- a Nick Chubb injury or a possible trade out of Cleveland this summer could cause Hunt’s ADP to rise 40 spots immediately.
Even if nothing happens, Hunt will be a big part of the Cleveland offensive scheme, much to the chagrin of Chubb managers.
Rashaad Penny- Seattle ADP: 115.6 RB37
After Seattle selected Ken Walker in the second round of the NFL Draft, Penny was one of my post NFL Draft dynasty losers. However, for redraft purposes, he is the perfect back to draft after a Hero or Zero RB build. I recently took him at the 8.12 of an FFPC Football Guys Players Championship draft.
Penny cannot stay healthy, but with this build we know that we will be attacking the waiver wire and stashing high upside backs. What we need out of Penny is a quick start. Over his last five games last season, aka the fantasy football money weeks, Penny rushed for 671 yards and six touchdowns. Based on his finish last season, there is no way he will not be at least in a committee with Walker. More likely than not, Penny will be the higher volume back to start the season.
James Cook- Buffalo ADP:107.4 RB34
A case can be made for Devin Singletary on this list, but I prefer the rookie here. Cook is a strong pass catcher. He offers us a weekly floor play with some upside. In Buffalo’s turbo charged offense, Cook could do an awful lot by simply earning the passing down role along with 35-40 percent of the carries. If he exceeds my realistic expectations, he could be an RB2.
Every action Buffalo has taken this summer indicates they want Josh Allen to target his running backs more often. Take their word for it and draft Cook.
Chase Edmonds- Miami ADP: 111.8 RB36
Edmonds goes higher in other formats that are PPR, but in 1/2-point PPR Underdog, he goes at a very affordable price. There is uncertainty in the Miami backfield, but Edmonds has a lot going for him as a bet to beat his ADP. He is the highest paid back, had his most productive last season, and is the best pass catcher among all backs in Miami. He also is well suited to produce in Mike McDaniel’s zone rushing scheme.
Rhamondre Stevenson- New England ADP:118.2 RB38
Could it be the year for Rhamondre Stevenson in New England? Last season’s preseason darling, Stevenson had a relatively quiet season with 606 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground. The 230-pound back has two-way ability that never really came to light as he only saw 14 catches on 18 targets. After a humbling 47-17 playoff loss to Buffalo, perhaps New England will take a look at their limited offensive personnel and find a way to get Stevenson more touches. I am betting on rational coaching here.
Right now, we can draft Stevenson as part of a committee backfield. The popular perception is Damien Harris being the leading rusher, James White being the leading receiver, and Stevenson being the jack of all trades. There is a scenario where Stevenson sees the most work. He has a large range of outcomes, and it is difficult to trust a Bill Belichick RBBC. However, if he sees enough work, this is the kind of back that could crush his ADP.
In leagues with an early pre-season waiver wire run, combining Stevenson with White in the very last few rounds is a good idea.
Ronald Jones- Kansas City ADP: 128.8 RB40
With the signing of Jerick McKinnon, I would expect all Kansas City running backs to see their ADP drop slightly. I think this reaction is incorrect. While McKinnon will limit Clyde Edward Helaire’s work in the passing game, Jones role should remain the same. I would expect that Jones immediately sees work as the goal-line back in the Kansas City offense. This is enough for me to want some exposure to him. There is also a chance he simply passes Edwards-Helaire as the primary back. Jones is still only 24 years old and is one year removed from a 978-yard rushing season in Tampa Bay. He was clearly passed by Leonard Fournette in Tampa Bay but could see a career resurgence if he has some success this season.
SLIGHTLY EXPENSIVE HANDCUFFS
Alexander Mattison- Minnesota ADP:123.8 RB39
Mattison is one of the most productive handcuffs in football when he sees work. He is the direct backup to Dalvin Cook, and the previous coaching staff gave him an almost identical workload as a two way back when Cook missed games. Unlike Pollard and Dillon, he does little to nothing in games where Cook plays. This is the sort of high-end handcuff you want in your build.
Rachaad White- Tampa Bay ADP: 130.7 RB42
In fantasy football, we love two-way running backs with size and athleticism. At 6-0 214-pounds with a 4.48 40-yard dash time, White certainly checks off those boxes. Tampa Bay used their third-round draft pick and immediately we had clarity on the depth chart. Leonard Fournette is absolutely the starter and a big part of the Bucs offense. If anything were to happen to Fournette, White would immediately be an RB1 in fantasy.
There is also a chance that White has an immediate role as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Last season he had 48 receptions at Arizona State and he is also a capable pass blocker.
LESS EXPENSIVE TO CHEAP TIER ROOKIE AND SOPHOMORE HANDCUFFS
Isaiah Spiller- Los Angeles Chargers ADP: 137.7 RB43
Spiller is the clear handcuff in Los Angeles to Austin Ekeler. He also could see immediate work if the Chargers choose to lessen Ekeler’s role this season around the goal line. He is not a perfect prospect by any means. A year after most would have him solidly being drafted on day two, he fell to the fourth round. What he lacks in draft capital he makes up for in landing spot. He is now attached to one of the better offenses in football with the Justin Herbert led Chargers.
Hassan Haskins- Tennessee ADP: 207.2 RB63
If this was a financial article, this would have to be one of those moments where I state that “I am recommending this stock but also have a ton of shares in it.” Haskins was a player I routinely drafted in dynasty rookie drafts and have continued to do so in redraft and best ball. Haskins is 6-2, 228-pounds and had 27 bench press reps at the combine. This is a strong physical back who is now the direct handcuff to a 28-year-old back with over 1,400 career carries. Try and make Haskins a part of your redraft strategy. I would imagine that his ADP rises over the summer.
Tyrion Davis-Price- San Francisco ADP: 161.8 RB50
The 49ers used a third-round draft pick on Davis-Price this past NFL draft. Elijah Mitchell had an impressive rookie season, but he has sixth round draft capital and had “clean-up” knee surgery after last season. One set back and Davis-Price could be the lead back in a Kyle Shanahan led offense. Davis-Price could also benefit from playing next to Trey Lance.
Khalil Herbert- Chicago ADP: 163.6 RB51
Herbert has been one of my favorite players to draft this offseason. He falls to a comfortable point in the draft and has multiple paths to returning a value. Last year as a rookie, he had a four-week stretch where he rushed for 344 yards and caught nine passes. These numbers are more impressive when you put into context how bad the Chicago offense was. David Montgomery was not extended, and this coaching staff has zero loyalty to him. Herbert could be in more of a time share than some realize, and if Montgomery were to go down, Herbert would be an every-week RB2.
The Pass Catching Specialists
Note: If you use the Zero or Hero approach, having one of these players can help you survive an early week by providing a floor play.
Nyheim Hines- Indianapolis ADP:137.9 RB43
One of the biggest beneficiaries of a QB change for any offensive skill position player this season may be Nyheim Hines. Hines had a highly productive 2020 with 63 receptions on 76 targets with Phillip Rivers as his quarterback. Last year with Carson Wentz, that number dipped to 40. Expect Hines back to the 60+ range this season. He is an explosive player who has averaged 7.3 yards per reception over his career and had his most efficient rushing season last year with a career-high 4.9 YPC.
If Jonathan Taylor were to miss time (I hate even writing that), Hines would be the one you would want to roster. Even with Taylor healthy (that feels better to write) Hines will have a weekly floor. He is a great target for zero RB drafters and a good one for Hero RB drafters.
JD McKissic- Washington ADP: 181.1 RB55
Before the Bills drafted James Cook, they attempted to sign McKissic. At the very last minute, Washington was able to retain him. What did they promise to get him to come back? Could it be an increased role in the offense? Over the last two seasons, McKissic has 123 receptions including 80 in 2020. Perhaps we could see a return to the 2020 numbers this season. As we saw with Hines, Carson Wentz does satellite backs no favors, but McKissic should be a part of the weekly game plan.
BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY VETERAN
Mark Ingram New Orleans
Do I feel good about writing about Mark Ingram in an article in 2022? Absolutely not. But if you are an early drafter, there is still a chance we see a suspension for Alvin Kamara stemming from his off the field incident in Las Vegas. While there are some younger options in the depth chart, Ingram would most likely be the primary back to start the season if Kamara were to miss time.